WHATEVER else Cowboys running back and unabashed autograph hound Tashard Choice has learned this week, chances are he now understands this: There is a time and place for everything.
TIME: Well, he could have chosen a better one than literally seconds after the visiting Eagles had beaten Dallas, 30-27, Sunday evening.
PLACE: And he should have picked somewhere that was somewhat less conspicuous.
But there he was on TV in full view of America. In what has suddenly become the second surprise signing of the week behind Cliff Lee rejoining the Phillies, Choice approached Eagles quarterback Michael Vick as he strolled from the field, handed him a white glove and Sharpie and asked for his autograph. Vick accommodated him as he would have if had been asked by any 12-year old, which immediately created a small uproar among fans who asked: "What could Choice have been possibly thinking?"
By way of explanation, Choice said it was "an innocent gesture" on behalf of his 3-year old nephew. Of Vick, Choice added, "I have nothing but respect for him. I admire somebody who can overcome circumstances and came back and prove people wrong."
Vick called him "a good friend of mine," but added: "I think there is a time and place for everything . . . He wanted to get an autograph for his nephew, which is totally understandable by me."
While Choice has come under scrutiny for the way he obtained that autograph, the fact that he asked for it is not that unusual. Players themselves are also fans, and it is not uncommon for them to seek collectibles from rivals on other teams. However, it is not common for them to do it in the manner Choice did, which is to say on the very field where he and his teammates had just finished battling it out with the Eagles.
Opposing players came in droves for something autographed by Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken and others. When he coached Michael Jordan in Chicago, Sixers head coach Doug Collins said he saw Jordan sign and "give away a ton of shoes after he wore them in a game." Sixers assistant coach Aaron McKie said that someone gave him a Jordan autograph.
"Our assistant coach in high school was a runner for an agent and [former Bull] Will Perdue was one of his guys and I got Jordan," said McKie. "He only put MJ on there, but for me that was a big thing because he was one of the guys I idolized."
But McKie said he did not ask for autographs when he played. "No," he said. "Now, the players do it mostly for charity reasons. If they have a foundation, they'll ask somebody for a jersey and then return the favor."
But none of the Sixers interviewed said they would ask an opposing player for an autograph if it was just for them. Center Spencer Hawes obtained a pair of shoes from his childhood ideal Tim Duncan but someone got them for him. Forward Craig Brackins got an autograph from Lakers star Kobe Bryant but as a child at a charity bowling event. Guard Evan Turner said there was no one playing today in the league that he would ask to sign something.
"No," he said. "The only people I would want an autograph from are Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali."
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he would not be "very happy" to see one of his players ask an opponent for an autograph on the field. But he quickly qualified that by saying football is different than baseball in that "there are so many fewer games [in football] that you may never have another opportunity to be around another athlete like that."
Amaro said that as a player he collected "10 to 12 autographs" but only through the clubhouse attendants.
"I have done it," said Amaro. "Mostly guys I had a great deal of respect for. I got a couple of Rockies because they were bashing back then. Andres Galarraga. I played against him in winter ball. Vinny Castilla . . . I got Mark McGwire. Greg Maddux."
Frank Coppenbarger, the Phillies director of team travel and clubhouse services, said he could not remember seeing someone in baseball do what Choice did. However, he did say that players will occasionally ask an opponent during batting practice: "Hey, if I sent a bat over will you sign it?"
Coppenbarger said that players were eager to get something signed by Ripken. "It seemed like everybody wanted something," said Coppenbarger. "So the clubhouse man, Fred Tyler, kept all the stuff until the last day of the series. He'd accumulate it all and then Ripken would sit down for about 15 minutes and knock it all out at once."
Coppenbarger said Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are the two Phillies who are in biggest demand. Insofar as opposing players are concerned, he said "any of the marquee guys. When Mark McGwire was playing, he was it. And these days Derek Jeter is huge."
Larry Andersen, the Phillies announcer and former big-league pitcher, said while Choice probably should not have asked Vick for an autograph on the field, doing so is "just a sign of admiration and respect." Andersen said there is "a lot of back and forth" in baseball and that former pitcher Curt Schilling "probably has as many autographs as anybody I know."
Anderson added he has autographs from Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan, among others. He said, "Just a few because of my appreciation for what those guys did for, or against me."
Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher said he got Alex Ovechkin to sign a stick for him last year, but that it was for his son and that it was done behind the scenes. However, he said he wished he had gotten others.
"I probably should have," he said. "Growing up, my favorite goalie was Patrick Roy. I played against him but never beat him. I tied him once. I wish maybe I would have gotten a signed jersey . . . But you could go on and on. Mario Lemieux. I even played for Wayne Gretzky [in Phoenix]."
Eagles tight end Brent Celek said he understood "why people are upset" with Choice, in that he asked "after a tough loss." But Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco was shocked by the commotion. On Twitter, the always brash Ochocinco said: "They making a big deal about another player asking Vick for his autograph? I want his autograph and the skillz he has too . . . and a jersey!"